This morning’s Gospel reading is John 2:1–11:
There was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the wedding. When the wine ran short, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servers, “Do whatever he tells you.”
Now there were six stone water jars there for Jewish ceremonial washings, each holding twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus told them, “Fill the jars with water.” So they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, “Draw some out now and take it to the headwaiter.” So they took it.
And when the headwaiter tasted the water that had become wine, without knowing where it came from —although the servers who had drawn the water knew—, the headwaiter called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves good wine first, and then when people have drunk freely, an inferior one; but you have kept the good wine until now.” Jesus did this as the beginning of his signs at Cana in Galilee and so revealed his glory, and his disciples began to believe in him.
Can you imagine showing up late for your own wedding? We probably have all experienced this, either by being late ourselves or being at a wedding where the bride, groom, or both didn’t show up on time. Fortunately, in all of those instances in my own experience, the happy couple eventually made it and completed the ceremony. (Neither my wife nor I were late for ours, thankfully!)
In contrast, how many weddings in our experiences suffered from a lack of food and drink? Assuming everyone made it through the wedding itself, probably not many. If anything, weddings in our time are instances of abundance bordering on the pathological. In our culture, they’re time-limited to a few hours, but the logistics planning for receptions at times feels more suited for armies on the march. Except for the cake, of course.
No one’s late to the wedding feast at Cana, of course — at least in our Gospel reading. In fact, it appears that everyone possible has shown up and had already consumed the wine set aside for the festivities. Wedding feasts at this time and in this corner of the world didn’t typically last for a couple of hours, but instead went on for a day or longer. Given the economic circumstances in Cana and elsewhere in Judea, weddings were likely among the very few opportunities for community feasts on any scale. Running out of wine would have been a humiliation for the families involved, a sign of either poverty or miserliness in the context of so much happiness.
Mary knows this and wants to rescue the families from the social embarrassment that the shortage will create. She asks Jesus to intercede, who tests her by declaring that His hour has not yet come, but Mary more than anyone knows her son’s heart. Confident in His help, she tells the servers to “do whatever he tells you.” This becomes the first miracle in Jesus’ ministry, and the first sign of His emergence as Messiah.
Our first reading provides the context for the symbolism in Jesus’ intercession in this wedding. Isaiah prophesied that our salvation would conclude with a wedding — ours:
No more shall people call you “Forsaken,” or your land “Desolate,” but you shall be called “My Delight,” and your land “Espoused.” For the LORD delights in you and makes your land his spouse. As a young man marries a virgin, your Builder shall marry you; and as a bridegroom rejoices in his bride so shall your God rejoice in you.
Jesus opens the path of salvation and eternal life within the Trinitarian relationship. To be married to the Lord means to enter into that self-giving love between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Opening our hearts to the Holy Spirit prepares us for that wedding feast, forming us individually and as a church to become the bride and enter into God’s family for eternity.
Our worship in this life becomes part of that formation, too. I’ve mentioned the books Coming Soon by Michael Barber and The Lamb’s Supper by Scott Hahn in the past, both of which provide an excellent explication of Revelation and the matrimonial aspects of the Mass and salvation. We are called to our own wedding in the Mass, connected to the one sacrifice outside of time and space by which we are both saved and forgiven for our sins and rebellious natures. The Liturgy of the Word prepares us in the moment to enter into that mystery, while the Liturgy of the Eucharist makes it present to us in our own time and space. It is the moment in which we all are connected through Christ to our entire eternal family, past present and future, in the mystery of the Eucharist. (I have more on this theology and doctrine in this post from almost eight years ago.)
What does this tell us about Jesus’ first miracle? It is a signal to all of the nature of His salvation, for starters. The weddings in which we engage are models of the Trinitarian life, a point that undergirds all church theology as well. It is the practice of self-giving, self-sacrificing love that allows us to channel the Lord’s image as Creator. We are called to abundance in this gift, allowing the Lord to work through us to expand our families as He expands His own through His own self-sacrificing love. We are also called as communities to cherish and nurture families, supporting them as models of salvation and as the nuclear building blocks of communities. Jesus Himself does this by protecting the families from humiliation by sacrificing His own plans to provide them an abundance of the best wine to strengthen them.
This also underscores our own responsibilities to participate in this formation. We are called to respect the matrimonial state not just for its utility, but also for its spiritual and eschatological meaning as well. Are we faithful to our spouses as the Lord has remained faithful to us? Do we support and nurture marriages or act to undermine them?
And finally, do we show up for our own wedding, on time and prepared? Or do we straggle into the Mass sometime around the Alleluia and bail out after taking communion? This is not just formation for our eventual presence at the Wedding Feast of the Lamb, after all, but also a real presence at it through the mystery of the Eucharist. This doesn’t necessarily require a morning suit with tails for the gents and a full-train wedding dress for the women, but it does suggest that our worship should hold a high enough priority for us to prepare properly for it, attend it in full, and fully engage in the Mass while there. As sinners, we are already “late for our own wedding,” so to speak.
The good news — in fact, the best news — is that the Bridegroom has endless love and forgiveness for us anyway. His love for us knows no bounds, and all He asks is that we fully engage in our love for Him as well. Late for the wedding we might be, but better late than not to show up at all.
The front-page image is from my own collection, taken at La Chiesa di Santo Spirito in Sassia (The Church of the Holy Spirit in the Saxon District) in Rome in October 2014. It is very near St. Peter’s Square and the Vatican, and has English-language Mass each Sunday.
“Sunday Reflection” is a regular feature, looking at the specific readings used in today’s Mass in Catholic parishes around the world. The reflection represents only my own point of view, intended to help prepare myself for the Lord’s day and perhaps spark a meaningful discussion. Previous Sunday Reflections from the main page can be found here.